Serving the lunch crowd for more than 50 years, the Chene street pit stop could soon expand to a new building and a second location


The third-generation owner of Dan & Vi's Pizza Deli is bringing the Chene street business into the 21st century. 

Aaron Skinner's parents bought the small deli counter from his grandparents — the original Dan and Vi Paluch who opened shop in 1963 — just a few months after he was born 30 years ago.

After literally spending his entire life hanging around the store eating their signature deli slices (an Italian sandwich on two pieces of triangle-shaped Parmesan bread), Skinner is now the owner, and wants to take the old school business to the next phase.

At first that meant accepting credit cards, something that the small store did not do until about 2014 when Aaron took initiative and called the Square credit card processing company to set it up. Next came an Instagram account and a Facebook page. Delivery through Uber Eats followed. 

While the technology catches up, most other things about Dan & Vi's stays the same. Each day around lunchtime the dirt lot fills up with work trucks, semis and emergency vehicles. Area workers know they can get a quick, cheap lunch here, and even if the line is to the door when they arrive, it moves quickly. 

Manager Tina Wheeler says most of their customers visit three or four times a week, and business is strong in spite of recent construction woes, the closing of the nearby waste incinerator and layoffs at the General Motors Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant. 

"We have a great customer base," she said. "We support the community and in turn the community supports us."

But it's not just the $3 deli slices, or the pizza, fried snacks, chips and refreshing drinks that Dan and Vi's sells. A lot of people stop in because of tradition. 

"Every single day I hear people say, 'I used to come here with my granddad,'" said Wheeler, who signed on as manager about a year ago and already calls the store her "baby." "People have literally grown up here." 

Skinner points to the ups and downs of the past several decades and says the business is "still surviving and growing."

"I remember looking at the totals when I was a kid, and just seeing them now, I can't believe how far we've come," he said.

Skinner says he wants to build a new store next to the old one, and keep the old one open during construction. Details are still being hammered out, and he also is considering opening a second Dan and Vi's near downtown Detroit, possibly in the Wayne State University area. 

The Dan & Vi's purists balking at the idea of a new building can relax. The current building isn't even the original location. The first Dan & Vi's opened across the street in 1963. Skinner said it moved in the mid-1970s when they added beer and wine sales. 

"We want to keep it as old-school-feeling as we can, even when we build the new building," said Wheeler. "All this is coming with us. We still want that old school feel, we just want to updated it a little bit."

Right now the plans for expansion are still just in the "talking about it" phase. The staff and owners are keeping busy serving the hungry lunch crowd and fulfilling catering orders. Wheeler says with their new social media presence, they've started getting requests to ship their deli slices all over the country, too. 

Dan & Vi's Pizza Deli is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri. at 5951 Chene in Detroit. Call (313) 924-6077.

Twitter: @melodybaetens


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